Melissa Miller: Board of Trustees: Keep admissions separate

I applied to GW because of the Elliott School of International Affairs. I was tantalized by promises of internships just steps from my residence hall and connections that would help me after I received a diploma.

But in its 10-year strategic plan draft, GW threatens to do more harm than good to its prestigious individual colleges by proposing that students apply to the University as a whole.

Colleges like the Elliott School and the School of Media and Public Affairs have established themselves as standout programs that give students a head start in their field of study.

The 10-year strategic plan’s proposal is great in theory. But in reality, it will make applying to GW less appealing for those students who already know what they want to do in college.

Many students who apply to SMPA are likely to also consider competitive journalism programs like those at Northwestern and Syracuse universities. For these students, the school is appealing because of its separate application, which allows them to declare their majors and secure a spot in their chosen school ahead of time. And without this fast track, students might be turned off by GW.

Under the existing model, undecided students have plenty of time to make a decision, and specialized programs allow passionate students to focus on their interests from day one.

The administration has said the new admissions approach would allow more students to double major. But if you’ve ever been to an information session at GW and heard the tour guides introduce themselves, it’s clear that many GW students already have several concentrations.

It’s pretty easy to double major, double minor or have concentrations within or across schools. Unless you are in a program with a more restrictive curriculum, like engineering, the potential for fluidity already exists.

By having students apply to the University as a whole, it seems GW is also hoping to level the playing field for schools and departments. Under the new system, the hope is that GW would no longer be known for just a handful of elite programs.

Northwestern, for example, is home to a multitude of highly ranked colleges. A communications student can be confident that their degree is worth just as much as a chemistry major’s degree. Northwestern is a testament to the fact that separate admissions systems can work – just like they do now at GW – and that organizing the University around separate colleges is not such a bad idea.

To boost the University’s ranking, the key is to invest carefully in programs and research without hurting other programs in the process. The construction of the Science and Engineering Hall is an example of a smart investment.

The University needs to bolster programs outside of Elliott and SMPA, but in the process, it shouldn’t detract from programs that are already established and well regarded.

Before the Board of Trustees votes on the plan in January, the administration needs to rethink this change. They could be making a big mistake.

Melissa Miller is a sophomore majoring in international affairs.

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